Wednesday 21 February 2018

‘He should have been cited - you cannot fly-hack near someone’s head like that’

Schmidt warns that O’Connell not being held to account is ‘incredibly dangerous’ precedent that damages game globally

ON Saturday night, Joe Schmidt spoke to David Kearney Snr and told him to "trust in the system" after his son was taken to hospital having been knocked unconscious by the flailing right leg of Paul O'Connell.

Yesterday in UCD, it was clear that the Leinster coach had lost his own faith in Irish rugby's disciplinary procedures as he launched an unprecedented verbal outburst on the perceived injustice that the European champions feel they have suffered this week.

While the province's disappointment at the decision by citing commissioner Eddie Walsh not to refer the incident to a disciplinary hearing was apparent on Monday, their position hardened yesterday and they decided to air their grievances publicly after Rob Penney's comments that there was "nothing really to be concerned about" were published.

Hot favourite to replace Declan Kidney, Schmidt will be interviewed for the Ireland job this week and he admitted he would have preferred to keep the head down and avoid the inevitable questions about his future.

This is a delicate matter for the New Zealander, who could count O'Connell among his players next season if he is appointed as national team coach. He was keen to stress that the 33-year-old's actions were not deliberate and that the Munster talisman is "a superb man and a superb player".


However, the Leinster coach believed he had to go public to highlight the fact that his winger, who was left in hospital on Saturday night, has yet to return to training and could miss next weekend's Challenge Cup semi-final against Biarritz as a result of the incident, which was deemed careless rather than reckless by the Connacht citing commissioner.

The coach was not calling for a suspension necessarily, but believed that the player should have faced a hearing to explain his actions as the perception of the way the incident was handled mattered to the game's reputation.

It was, he said, an understatement to say Leinster were surprised by Walsh's decision, while he admitted that he was disappointed by Munster's dismissive reaction on Monday.

"Yeah I was and that's one of the reasons I'm here today," he said. "I'm certainly not here because I want to answer a lot of questions about a job I haven't even been offered and might never be offered.

"I didn't want to be here but for Dave's sake. I think, for consistency's sake, if you get 14 weeks for spitting... there's no danger in that at all.

"Dave could have bled and it could have been very, very serious.

"The baseline that has been created by the citing commissioner is an incredibly dangerous one – 90,000 hits on YouTube, that's kids and parents watching.

"If that is deemed by an individual to be an acceptable act on a rugby field...

"I don't think any of us are in any doubt about the quality of the man that is Paul O'Connell as a player and his intentions, but anyone who has been involved in an incident that leaves a player in that condition – and we can get into semantics, the toe, the shin, the foot – let's be honest, you cannot fly-hack near someone's head like that.

"Somebody needs to be called to explain actions that cause serious injuries. We can get into the semantics of what's careless and what's reckless as well, but to say we're surprised is probably an understatement.

"He should have been cited, he should have had the opportunity to respond and explain the action."

Schmidt believes that the decision not to cite O'Connell will cause a major stir in France. Had the second-row been suspended, he would have likely missed Munster's crunch Heineken Cup semi-final against Clermont-Auvergne.

Their second-row Jamie Cudmore tweeted on Monday: "How long for a kick in the head these days?" and while his tongue may have been firmly in cheek, his former coach Schmidt believes that belief in the Irish disciplinary procedures and faith in rugby in general will be called into question as a result of the decision.

"I think sometimes justice needs to be seen to be done. I think for Irish rugby you only have to read the French social media to know that's not a perception that's held off-shore," he said.

"I just think it's a risk for rugby globally that if something like that happens and is not at least questioned.

"Look, I have massive respect for Paul O'Connell. I have massive respect for the man and the player. I know that our players do. It would be awful if that diminishes because of a system where the citing commissioner...

"I think Eddie Walsh has to have another look at what he saw and put it in a broader context and think in terms of the global game, think in terms of parents and kids who watch that, because I've got a guy who was in a pretty sick state on Saturday."

It was, Schmidt admitted, one of the ugliest incidents he had seen in 12 years of professional coaching and he felt compelled to speak out on behalf of Kearney, who is certainly out of this weekend's meeting with Zebre.


"It is a very difficult moment for us, one of the reasons we feel compelled to say something is that Dave Kearney seems to be the forgotten man," he said.

"He was the guy that was kicked unconscious. He was the guy who was subjected to CT scans and spent an uncomfortable night in hospital.

"When those sort of things happen, you have to look at kids and the global game and I think it has been damaged when I see that. People see that are horrified by it. You only have to look at the replay and people have talked about Leinster players not reacting to it. I think it is because most of them were looking at Nigel Owens.

"I challenge you to go back and have a look at the look on Felix Jones' face. It hides none of the horror that he's just seen.

"I think that's the sort of horror that 90,000 other people on YouTube will see. I don't want to make it an emotional thing but inevitably when something like this happens, that's what it becomes.

"I think that if something like that is not cited you have just created a baseline that makes things acceptable that can be dangerous to the game and my duty is the duty of care to my players. Dave Kearney was in a bad way."

Irish Independent

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